• It's March and the Spurs are still without Kawhi Leonard. With reports of rifts and team meetings emerging from San Antonio, the Open Floor podcast crew discusses Kawhi theories.
By Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver
March 23, 2018

We're mostly through the month of March and the San Antonio Spurs are still without Kawhi Leonard, who originally went down with a quadriceps injury. Leonard, who was expected to return last week, has played only nine games this season and players like Manu Ginobili don't expect him to come back to the court this season. What's really going on in San Antonio? Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver of the Open Floor podcast sift through all the theories. 

Check out the full episode here and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. (The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity).

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Andrew Sharp: What is going on in San Antonio?

Ben Golliver: It'd be hilarious if the source of all these anti-Kawhi rumors was LaMarcus. Like he just decided, 'You know what? I haven't done any interviews with anyone for like 15 years.' Although Michael Pina had a really good piece on LaMarcus about a week or two ago for Vice Sports. People should check that out. LaMarcus has been one of the worst media All-Stars of the last decades. It would just be hilarious if that was his decision. 'You know what? I got paid by San Antonio, I got my extension, Kawhi get out of here. This is my show now.' That would be so funny.

Sharp: To be clear, what we're referencing, in case you don't spend all day on basketball Twitter, Adrian Wojnarowski came out with a report on ESPN that the Spurs held a players-only meeting over the weekend imploring Kawhi Leonard to return to the court and Kawhi I guess refused. And then in the wake of that report, six different Spurs took to Twitter and started mocking Woj and calling it fake news and mocking the media in general for blowing all of this out of proportion.

This is one of the strangest stories. If not for Markelle Fultz, this would be the strangest NBA story in years. And also, I think one of the things that has kept it from becoming a bigger deal is that no one in San Antonio ever really talks. So we've just been kind of guessing and people mostly ignored it. But it continues to be completely bizarre. 

Golliver: Have you ever seen those books called How to Be a Gentlemen? Brooks Brothers puts them out and it's about good etiquette and conduct. One of the big messages from those books is always like discretion or never let them see you sweat. You're not going to say anything that can be taken the wrong way, you're always going to be stoic in the face of adversity. I picture Kawhi being bombarded by questions from his teammates, like a completely emotional Manu Ginobili saying, 'Kawhi, I have killed myself for this organization for 15 years. When are you coming back.' And Kawhi just doing the Brooks Brothers thing of the blank face and the nodding. There is a certain power to Kawhi's demeanor. In good times, it's like he's so steady. And then in bad times, it's like well he's not getting too high or too low. He's projecting power.

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But really what it does in a case of a crisis like this is it allows everyone to sort of write their story. So I could see some players in the Spurs locker room coming away from that meeting being like, 'Kawhi barely flinched when we were begging him to come back. Of course he doesn't want to be here.' And then other players like Danny Green or whoever else shot down the report, being like, 'No, no, Kawhi didn't say anything, he just sat there. But he didn't walk out of the room so therefore that means he's with us and he's definitely going to come back.'

It creates this environment where even people close to Kawhi may have a difficulty reading whatever his intentions are, and that could be part of the reason why we as basketball consumers are getting all these mixed messages. It's because Kawhi is basically just letting everyone write their own story about him, including the people who are in that locker room. That's what it seems like to me.

Sharp: The Spurs are going to be in D.C. and I was thinking, 'Maybe it'd be great to catch up with Kawhi.' And immediately afterward was like, 'There's no chance Kawhi is ever going to talk to anyone.' He's just been in that sort of holding pattern all year. I think if there's one thing we have really learned from the report from Woj is that it certainly sounds like his teammates think he's ready and should be ready to play.

And that's been kind of the vibe we've been getting for the last month or two—that the Spurs think he's ready and this is sort of more conformation that everyone is getting kind of restless and Kawhi for whatever reason doesn't feel like he's there yet. I hope he gets there before the playoffs. It's been cool to see the Spurs start to right the ship a little bit, and it'd be really great to have even 80% Kawhi involved in the playoffs. But honestly all bets are off at this point.  

Golliver: Have you heard this theory that he might not want to come back because he has to be the savior if he does. That he's facing really impossible expectations to live up to; if they lose, everyone is going to blame him because he couldn't save the day.

Sharp: Is that really a theory?

Golliver: Yeah, I've heard people float that out there as just an idea. If he's not feeling 100% right—and I would hope he's not sitting around 100% right just listening to Manu beg him to come back—if he's decided that he's not going to come back. 

Sharp: Nothing worse than upsetting Manu. That's the greatest crime for Golliver. 

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Golliver: No, it really is, not to mention Pop. And Pop's been bending over backwards on this. I just think the only other explanation is he thinks he's going to get re-injured and it's going to compromise his earning power this summer, right? What are the other explanations. That's what's so perplexing about this situation. How do you explain Kawhi's weirdness?

And you can't just write it off as Kawhi is a different guy. I don't think that justifies it. There's something motivating it. It's either fear of re-injury to change his ability to earn supermax this summer or it's some fear of not being able to play at 100% and therefore not really helping the team as much as they want or fill in your own theory here. But there aren't that many possible motivations. 

Sharp: And I would add that I think at the beginning of this, when there were rumors of a rift between Kawhi and the Spurs, a lot of people kind of connected the dots and said Kawhi wanted out. He still might want out, but I don't think this is part of that, because it doesn't seem like a smart strategy if you're going to force a trade to just sort of inexplicably sit out the season without good reason. So it's got to be something with his body and the way he feels. So more power to him but it's been really weird to watch it all unfold. 

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